Preservation Is Fashionable — Preservation of fragile vintage textiles and clothing can carry a hefty price tag for museums. Because of that, and the current economy, some museums have made the tough decision to discontinue presenting their textile collections. What happens to these pieces? In the case of one museum, its collection has found a new home in America’s Largest Home: Biltmore House.
“It’s sad in some ways, but, because of this, we’ve been able to purchase a variety of vintage costumes and objects from Brooklyn Museum in New York City, and from other sources, that will delight our guests and add to the richness and depth of the Biltmore experience,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s curator of interpretation.
Our guests have been telling us for years they want to know more about the people who lived in the house, who worked there and who visited the owners/residents, George and Edith Vanderbilt. Now, with the addition of these vintage clothing pieces and objects from the Vanderbilt Era and the height of the Gilded Age (1895-1914), visitors to Biltmore House will get a sense of the house as a home like never before.
For months, Klingner and Anne Battram, Biltmore’s upholstery conservator, have been involved with researching and locating the pieces. Some of the most fabulous finds include a lady’s travel trunk lined with royal purple fabric; a collection of men’s and women’s hats, gloves, and shoes; children’s toys such as carriages and carts; and some lovely clothing representative of the time and lifestyle of the Vanderbilt family and their guests.
Battram has been charged with conserving the fragile textiles that make up these costumes.
“I’m in awe of the tailoring skills in these items,” Anne says. “And the details! Like tiny sachet bags sewn into the neckline of dresses to keep them sweet-smelling because these fancy clothes could not be laundered.”
Some of the featured costumes include a brown walking suit that characterizes author Edith Wharton, author and good friend of George Vanderbilt’s who visited Biltmore often. Also, a cream and gold gown which will support the story of Gertrude Vanderbilt’s Christmas visit to Biltmore in 1895; and a riding jacket and boots for George Vanderbilt’s friend, Willie Field.
Anne characterizes the project as an unbelievable opportunity to work with form and textiles to create a sense of Biltmore House as more lived-in and “real” than ever before.
This effort really represents a shift in focus for Biltmore – from largely object-based interpretation to a dynamic, story-based experience centered on Biltmore as a family home. Biltmore House will introduce these new enhancements on May 20 to reveal more about the lives of people who lived, worked and visited the house during George Vanderbilt’s day. The self-guided house tour will incorporate more stories about the Vanderbilts, including the fact that guests will be able to step into the Bowling Alley for the first time, as well as see Mr. Vanderbilt’s concealed walk-in closet fully furnished.
Also, a new guided specialty tour – the Family & Friends Guided Tour – will focus on Biltmore’s legendary hospitality and stories of family and friends who came to stay on the estate. This tour includes the Louis XVI Room, the Tower Suite, the Artists’ Suite and the Fourth Floor. The theme of this tour is gracious hospitality. It will provide a closer look at the lifestyles of Vanderbilt’s guests, as well as exploring the lives of the servants and the behind-the-scenes work that made it all possible.
So while it’s unfortunate that we don’t have actual clothing that belonged to members of the Vanderbilt family, we have acquired the next best thing. In fact, Biltmore is helping preserve artifacts that otherwise may not have ever been enjoyed by the public again.
For more information, contact The Biltmore Company, One Approach Road, Asheville, N.C. 28803, phone 828-225-1333 or 1-877-324-5866, or visit Biltmore Estate’s Web site at www.biltmore.com.
[Photos courtesy of Biltmore House, all rights reserved]